As parents, the German and I fall under what you’d call the “gentle” umbrella. No crying it out, no spanking or popping or physical punishment, and lots of respect for our babies as little people with a voice (respect the “no,” help them work through emotions, etc.).
However, I used to raise my voice to HG1. Too much, really. I told myself I was still “gentle” because there was nothing physical involved with our discipline. But every time I raised my voice to her, I would watch her little face and spirit crumple. Loud sounds bother her very much, so hearing me yell would make her cry every time. I’ve been very, very deliberate with my interactions with HG1 since a few months before HG2 was born, vowing to raise my voice as little as possible. I haven’t eliminated yelling entirely, but it’s rare for me to raise my voice to her anymore.
Last night presented itself with a “no yelling” opportunity in our home. HG1 spilled her water onto the table at dinner (which in turn dribbled on an iPad and laptop because I decided she could watch Daniel Tiger while I watched The Office…long day. Don’t judge.). This is probably the tenth time in as many days that she’s spilled her drink, NO MATTER WHERE I PLACE IT ON THE TABLE. Old me would have raised my voice and yelled at her to go get a towel, demanding she be more careful.
Last night, instead of raising my voice, I took a deep breath and looked at her. Her little face turned up to mine, her eyes wide with nervous expectation. I smiled, picked up a towel and joked in a silly voice (so she would know straight away that I wasn’t angry), “Geez Louise, kid. You spill every cup you touch. Why is that?” while cleaning up the water. She giggled and squeaked, “I don’t know!” then moved the iPad away from the spill. I told her it must be because she’s a little wiggle worm and she laughed, “Yeah, I’m a wiggle worm,” then I poured her some more water. She said softly, “Thanks, Mama. You’re Supermom.”
It’s amazing what we can learn from our littles when we listen carefully and act deliberately. She doesn’t respect me more for being louder and controlling; she respects me for showing her kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and humor rather than crushing her spirit. Those are the traits I want to foster in her, so where better for her to learn them than from me?
By not raising my voice when she made a mistake – even a mistake she makes almost every day – but instead helping her clean and giving her a silly dialogue through which to see the spill, she internalized my reaction and, in this instance, offered kindness back almost immediately.
I’ll go a step further and say that if you can avoid any negativity in your word choices, bonus points for you. I’m not crazy about my reaction, but I’m learning in this process, too. Tonight’s reactions was worlds better than previous reactions. Baby steps.